Will humans a million years from now write a date like “February 25, 1002018,” or perhaps as “MysehC.55” (see below) or something else, some new alien Star Date type system? Will we need dates at all? If humanity and written language survive a million years, it is difficult to imagine that they will keep using the same starting point we have now.
Consider the Long Now conventions for date use:
The Long Now Foundation uses five-digit dates to guard against the deca-millennium bug (the “Y10K” problem) which will come into effect in about 8,000 years. As you may have noticed any reference we make to a year begins with a zero: 01977, 03012, 02000, 00521, 01215, etc.
It’s an idiosyncrasy to which we are dedicated. It’s nerdy fun, but it has a serious point, too. As our co-founder Stewart Brand points out: the present moment used to be the unimaginable future.
Long Now is fond of metaphors. Our 10,000 year Clock will begin to keep time at some point in the future, but it functions today as a viral idea carrying a long-term thinking payload. Once you are aware of the effort to build a clock that will last for 10 millennia you can’t unthink the flood of details that come to mind about that endeavor. “Big Time” becomes more tangible and hopefully you gain perspective on the small chronological units we typically give such weight to in our daily lives.
Our zero is for optimism. The notion that the externalized thoughts we write today may survive myriad years to a time when that fifth digit becomes significant. If we hope to grasp anywhere near that ambitious reach, it will require some forethought. Our five-digit dates represent that.
In the 01998 essay Written on the Wind (published in Civilization magazine) Stewart wrote this about the larger problem of digital obsolescence:
How can we invest in a future we know is structurally incapable of keeping faith with its past? The digital industries must shift from being the main source of society’s ever-shortening attention span to becoming a reliable guarantor of long-term perspective. We’ll know that shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 Problem, and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. 01998 they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.
For the super million year optimists reading, those who believe we will rise to every threat and survive, we are now in the year 0002018.
Perhaps when we get past the stage where we dismantle Mercury to build a Dyson swarm (more resilient than a sphere) and then use the new power to mine the asteroid belt and later the Oort Cloud, when we move to other planets and when we create artificial worlds, by then, perhaps we will use dates based on the creation date of the known universe 13.73 billion years ago.
Here’s an example of the current date based on the absolute date of the universe is something like 13,734,422,018.55 that is, 13 billion, 734 million, 422 thousand and 18 years, plus 55 days into the current year (February 25).
The string “13734422018.55” is a lot to write, so it may be written in base64 as MyoqYC.3 which is 55 days after the year 13734422018.
The most accurate age of the universe may be 13.734 billon years, we are in the year 2018 and I used the number 42 as a best guess for the other digits, as it is the bug answer in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Tetrasexagesimal (Base64) lets us write huge numbers in few characters, so I think it’s a great choice. Tomorrow is MyoqYC.4 in this system. The days go up to lowercase “k”, 364 days, then the year rolls up one to MyoqYD in 2019. In this base 64 system, there are 62 digits plus 2 characters, (26+26+10+2) which are in order:
A is 0 and the decimal number 63 is / and, to make a long story short, the capital M for the current 13 billionth year would keep going up to “/” years, which is 62 billion years, more than four times the current age of the universe. That should do nicely.
If today is the year 13734422018 (“MyoqYC”) then in a million years it will be year 13735422018 which is “MysehC” according to this calculator. The Calculator seems a bit wonky, take all of this with a grain of salt.
This is still very Earth centric, based on our years. Perhaps we will have made contact with other intelligent life and we will start using their system of dates. Will Earth days stop having meaning at some point? Not in a million years (MysehC), I’d say. A billion years, yes. That will be the year 14734422018 or NuPXAC. It has a nice ring to it?